Staff Photo: John Bohn Davis Mills (5), standing at center, takes part in Football University camp Friday evening at Duluth HIgh School. Some of the nation's top high school football prospects will take part in training this weekend. Mills will attend Greater Atlanta Christian.
DULUTH -- With athletes from as far away as Missouri and a field of more than 200 representing all the states in the region, the Atlanta stop of the Football University camp kicked off Friday with its short "appetizer" session.
The large field includes some of the nations top recruits and players ranging from rising high school freshmen to college-bound seniors.
"The Atlanta camp has become one of the top cities on the circuit of the 40 that we go to," regional director and national scouting director for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Erik Richards said."
It's easy to see why. Alumni of the Atlanta camp, held this year at Duluth High School, include Buford graduate and Alabama lineman Dillon Lee and Old Dominion record-setting quarterback Taylor Heinicke from Collins Hill.
"The original concept was kind of a spin-off of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl," Richards said. "Physically, these players may have been the biggest, strongest, faster of any player in their region or, in some cases, in their state. Then all of a sudden they are thrust on the big stage.
"When you get talent-on-talent like that it reverts back to technique. We are big believers in technique. It's a technique camp."
It's also a preparation camp. The individual instruction, one-on-one competition and seven-on-seven portions all help players prepare for the one-day football recruiting showcases that allow players to show off their talent rather than simply their 40-yard dash and leaping abilities.
"If you want to do well in those, we are a great place to learn," Richards said.
The camp's coaches include former NFL coaches and players from around Atlanta and the country. Billy "White Shoes" Johnson and Ray Buchanan are among the former players along with wide receivers coach Charlie Collins and QB coaches Chris Miller and Jeff Rutledge.
"We have what we consider the best lineup of NFL coaches and former players (in coaches)," Richards said.
The coaches, combined with the density of talent in Gwinnett County and metro-Atlanta create an ideal situation for a camp of this quality. Included in this class from, or soon to play in Gwinnett, are North's Mitch Hyatt, the No. 1 rated offensive lineman in the class of 2015, according to 247sports.com, 2016 graduate running back Malik Staples, and rising freshmen receiver/safety Deangelo Gibbs, athlete Jamyest Williams of Duluth and quarterback Davis Mills, who lists GAC as his high school. Collins Hill junior Austin Smith is also attending. Hyatt was not at Friday's first session, missing it for a graduation.
Gibbs, an eighth-grader last year and one of the top receivers and safeties in the country in his class, doesn't know where he'll attend high school, but said he was looking toward Gwinnett from his Conyers home because he wants to face the best competition in the state.
"You'll have to ask my parents," he said.
But coming to the camp was an easy choice for Gibbs.
"It was really challenging," he said of the camps first day. "It was really tough. I always want to compete. I want to leave here a better player."
Held at Duluth, Williams gets a chance to work out on what will be his home field. He is coming to Gwinnett from the Athens area and is also among the top athletes entering their freshmen year in the country.
"I just really like this high school," Williams said of Duluth. "I am just trying to build a program here at Duluth."
With such young talent, the linebacker Smith, who has interest from across the SEC and lists Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina among his favorites, said he wants to help work with the younger players. He came to camps at their age and appreciated the attention the older players gave him.
"I just want to return the favor," the Collins Hill player said. "The guys out here, you got against them on Friday nights. You get your money's worth when you are out here."